One particular morning this week I came face to face with a captivating statement.
Presently travailing in the book of Judges, I seemingly stumbled upon chapter 15—as if it were an unknown land to me; uncharted territory! I’ve read this chapter on many occasions. I’ve heard it taught. I’ve contemplated it deeply myself in years gone by—but never did this line ever strike me as it did this day.
It resounded in the inner chambers of my mind and transported me back four years to a specific scene in my life where I last heard these words spoken…things have not since gone well with the one who spoke them.
I will never forget the vigor with which they proclaimed this exact thought, albeit in greater expansion and detail, but nonetheless—Samson captures their thought most precisely:
“As they did to me, so have I done to them.” (Judges 15:11)
Samson, a man of long flowing locks, devoted to God as a Nazirite from the womb.
‘A Nazirite?’, you ask.
A Nazirite had a threefold commitment:
- to refrain from cutting the hair of their head
- to refrain from becoming ritually impure—through contact with a corpse or graves (even those of their own family)
- to abstain from wine and other intoxicating liquids, as well as the eating and drinking of anything with grapes.
Samson was a mighty man! A man of incomprehensible strength, superhuman strength—for God was with him.
Samson was also a man of vengeance.
Vengeance was Samson’s lifestyle.
Samson’s words in Judges 15:11 did not come as a surprise. It wasn’t something foreign. In Judges 14 when Samson is wronged by the Philistines and loses somewhat of a gamble that he has made with them, he kills thirty random Philistine townspeople in order to pay what he owes. Samson even takes immense satisfaction in foretelling his victims of their impending doom that will come by his hands:
“Samson said to them, ‘Since you’ve acted like this, I swear that I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you.'”(Judges 15:7 – NIV).
Samson’s statement in Judges 15:11: “As they did to me, so I have done to them,” is his explanation for his actions. And I’m sure we hear those same words on our own lips oftentimes, or at least as a reasoning in our minds. Samson’s words come after he has just lit the tails of 300 foxes on fire and burned most, if not all, of the Philistines’ wheat crops. This leads to the Philistines responding with their own vengeance—burning Samson’s wife and father-in-law to death. Not to be outdone, Samson promises to have his vengeance upon them AGAIN. And does; killing all those that wronged him before fleeing to a cave. With his appetite for vengeance still unappeased, later when Samson is bound and brought before the Philistines he breaks free and kills 1,000 of them with a donkey’s jawbone (Judges 15:11-17). Thus, we get an outsider’s view of this vicious cycle that comes through a life of vengeance. The cycle is like a whirlwind and once you’re caught up in it, you will have great difficulty getting out.
How About You?
Vengeance calls enticingly to us all—when we are wronged.
What’s your immediate reaction when someone wrongs you?
Should those who hurt you expect payback?
Does it bring enjoyment to your heart informing people that they have not seen the last of you?
Or do you prefer them to find out the hard way—without any warning, just the pain of their wrongful deeds turned back upon them?
Is There an Alternative?
Is there an alternative to a life of vengeance?
Is there another way to deal with those who wrong us?
Some of you are expecting a lecture on forgiveness, ‘Heard it all before man.’
Before you checkout, you might be pleased to know that I am in fact not going to lecture you on forgiveness (as important as it is).
Instead, I’m going to tell you about something more peculiar. Something that you probably think you already know like the back of your hand, but perhaps you’ve never known it in this way.
Jesus tells us of another way to live. He offers us a piercing line:
“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31)
He calls for us to do to others, not according to what they have done to us; rather, according to how we would wish (or want) them to do to us. Wow! How can we possibly treat others the way we wish they had treated us, when they so clearly haven’t? Some would say, ‘Impossible!’
This is why I say Jesus calls us to something peculiar. Something we often take for granted as being automatic.
He calls us to love others.
We all know what love is right? We’ve all watched enough movies. Seen enough reality shows. Been in enough relationships. So on and so forth.
In fact, this is an assumption commonly embedded in us: I love others well.
While others may fail to love us well, it is regularly taken for granted that we ourselves do not fail to love well. It seems easy to assume that we love well on all occasions. As the saying goes: ‘If only everyone were more like…me!’
It appears to me that one major flaw in the understanding of love in pop culture is: if someone loves me they shouldn’t try to change me. If it’s true love, right? All over the place it is paraded that ‘love’ in a relationship means having the freedom to be whoever we determine we are—or want to be; as well as the freedom to do whatever it is that we want to do without any opposition (of course there are a few exceptions but these are the overall ideas predominantly put forth).
However, I put to you today that this understanding of love is decidedly distorted.
On the contrary, love requires sacrifice. Love endures suffering. Love elicits change.
This is the love Jesus speaks about, and to our world today it is radically peculiar. He takes what I already shared even further, saying to His followers:
“I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44)
I believe this love is not possible by some mere attempt at personal piety. It is possible only by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Just as Samson was immeasurably strong because God was with Him, by the empowering of the Holy Spirit we gain the strength and ability to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It is from this foundation of peculiar love that true and freeing forgiveness comes forth. Choosing to love others regardless of what they do to us is the alternative to the life of vengeance.
Samson died, having both his eyes gouged out at the hands of his enemies and being paraded before them in mockery (although God did allow him a last measure of grace before his death). The person whom I know that lived a life of vengeance wound up in prison. There are countless stories, perhaps even those you can attest to yourself.
The end of the life of vengeance is sure. There is a common trajectory. There is a well-known cycle. It is wearisome. It is life-sapping. And ultimately, it is deadly (Whilst not necessarily literal, it overwhelms your thoughts and actions to the point that it robs you of the freedom of truly being able to live your life). Just like a whirlwind, a life of vengeance will overpower you and carry you to places you never thought you would (or could) go.
However, Jesus lived the alternative. He loved—peculiarly. He loved His enemies to death (literally). He did to others as He wished they did to Him.
However, He was still brutally killed by His enemies. Yet never once did He move from His commitment to love them the right way regardless of how they treated Him. His parting words regarding His enemies prove this. Whilst being torturously murdered upon the cross before the eyes of many who scoffed and hated him, He pleads mercifully for His enemies: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
So I put to you friends, that we hear the wise words of the book of Proverbs:
“Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.'” (Prov. 24:29).
Make a daily choice to forsake the cycle and life of vengeance by being committed to loving others regardless of what they do to you. Peculiar love. Truly seek to do to others as you want them to do to you with the help and empowering of the Holy Spirit. The boundless delivering power of Holy Spirit can snatch us from the very center of any whirlwind! Pray and ask for the Lord to help you—moment by moment. This life of peculiar love, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is the freedom to truly live both now and forevermore.
Rest in this Word of God
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments,“You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:8-10).
Yours in Christ,